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Hello and welcome – President Obama will finally say something about his plan for NASA – but there are still mixed messages coming out of the space agency – as the space shuttle program winds down – and new commercial players try to spin up. And while SpaceX tried to figure out why a launch pad test ended before it really got started – We are told by the man in charge of the shuttle program that the fleet doesn’t have to stop flying after 4 more flights – it is just a matter of money…more on all of this in a bit – but first I have to tell you about tje Warner Brothers “IMAX: Hubble 3D” movie that captures some of the space shuttle’s greatest moments – and gives those of us who have never been to space – an idea of what it is really like to be there. I am talking about the IMAX Hubble 3-D movie – which premiered this week at the Air and Space Museum in Washington…The movie focuses on the last Hubble repair mission in May. NASA bolted a 3-D IMAX camera into the payload bay of Atlantis – it captured the astronauts at work in a vivid big screen – in your face – kinda way.
Leonardo DiCaprio narrates the film. Hubble 3D also includes scenes from the first Hubble repair mission – and the deployment of the telescope as well. But this time there is something different – IMAX took some of the most iconic images captured by Hubble – to the National Center for Super Computing Applications at the University of Illinois Ubrana-Champaign – there the filmmakers and the computer whizzes made those images 3-D – so in this movie not only do you feel as if you are flying on board the shuttle – you also are treated to an amazing 3-D odyssey through distant galaxies and nebulas. It’s an amazing ride…
They rolled out the red carpet at the Air and Space museum for the premiere – the space glitterati – such as it is – was there in large numbers – to see the Hubble 3-D. Now Leonardo sent his regrets from a movie set in Japan – and the real star of the show – Hubble was unable to be there was well – so that meant the big stars of the evening were the crew members of STS-125 – decked out in their blue flight suits – ready for their closeups. The crew of course felt a ton of pressure to fix and improve Hubble for the last time – so you would think shooting the movie would be no problem at all. But get this – they only had 8 minutes worth of film in that 3-D camera in the payload bay. And the camera only shoots 30 seconds at a time. So they had to be extremely careful about when to say “action” – but they had trained for it long and hard – and it all paid off. I spoke to these John Glenn Steven Spielberg hybrids as they walked down the carpet.
Of course IMAX has a long history of making big screen space films – matter of fact this is the seventh big picture from their space team. They are led by producer director Toni Myers – I spoke with her about the challenges of making a movie where the director cannot actually be on location – and yet has has to get the most important shots recorded on one 8 minute film magazine.
The IMAX 3-D experience is designed to take you to another place like no other medium can. It is the perfect way to share the experience of space flight. And give NASA credit for making all of this happen – the cameras take up a lot of space, weight and crew training time. And let’s remember – back in the Apollo days – NASA engineers argued against taking TV cameras to the moon – because there was no mission requirement to do so – and the cameras would add too much weight. Well we’ve come a long way baby – I asked NASA’s deputy administrator Lori Garver – who once tried to go to space herself – what she thinks about this way of engaging the public.
It was quite a scene at the Falcon 9 “hotfire” test the other day in Florida…there was a hot fire – briefly – but after that nothing. Launch controllers aborted the test of the engines at T-2 seconds. Falcon nine’s nine “Merlin 1-C” engines were supposed to fire for 3 and a half seconds to verify that all systems are functioning” and ready to roll for lift-off. the fire and smoke you see is the burn off of some residual liquid oxygen and kerosene fuel – the company says the engines never actually fired. They’ll be trying again in the coming days – this is the last big milestone before their maiden test voyage. All eyes are on SpaceX, as it races competitor Orbital Sciences to be the first commercial company to start hauling cargo, and one day people, back and forth to the International Space Station under contract with NASA.
Of course, not everyone is ready to go “all-in” on the plan to turn access to space over to the private sector. In the House Florida lawmakers Suzanne Kosmas and Bill Posey introduced a bill that would earmark money to fly the shuttle’s past the current retirement – Kay Bailey Hutchison has introduced a similar bill on the senate side. And Now Shuttle Program Manager says there is no reason the shuttle can’t keep on flying… John Shannon telling reporters it is a myth that NASA would have trouble getting shuttle vendors to restart production. But what about recertification of the orbiters – a requirement that came out of the Columbia accident…he says the agency has done enough of that to fly safely. The “tall pole in the tent,” as they say at NASA, would be external tank production. Even if the folks at Lockheed Martin got the word today to start making tanks again, there would still be a two year gap in any future shuttle flights But the bottom says Shannon – is the bottom line.
That money is NOT in the Obama Administration’s 2011 NASA Budget, nor are dollars for the Constellation Project to return astronauts to the moon. It is a big change – and up to now we have not heard the president say a peep about it – but that is about to change. The White House announcing Obama will be in Florida on April 15 to host a conference on the future of America’s space program. Details are all still TBA. You can bet, however, the President will offer a spirited defense of his plan to promote commercial transportation services to low earth orbit, and reorient NASA’s efforts toward developing new technologies for exploration beyond LEO. You can also bet he’s gonna get an earful from a lot of angry folks on the Space Coast who are headed for the unemployment line.
IMAX and NASA have had a good marriage over the years – and it all began at the site of the premier – the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum – when it opened in in 1976 – IMAX was a brand new idea – the first movie to play there was “To Fly” – the museum director at the time was Apollo 11 command module pilot Mike Collins – who immediately thought IMAX needed to go to space. The first product of that idea was “Hail Columbia” in 1982 – and the IMAX space hits have kept on coming…TWIS correspondent David Waters takes a look back.
The Hubble space telescope is an amazing instrument – in order to focus on a distant target the school bus sized scope does not deviate more than 7 one thousandth of an arc second – that is the same it try to hold a laser pointer steady on a dime that is 400 miles away. Hubble beams down about 120 gigabytes of data each week. the telescope is named for astronomer Edwin Hubble who confirmed the expansion of the universe – which led to the big bang theory. The ideas for a space telescope was conceived by the late Princeton astronomer Lyman Spitzer (another NASA telescope is named after him). If Hubble is the ancestor – and Spitzer the father – Ed Weiler might be called Hubble’s uncle – the NASA astronomer and manager has been with the Hubble program since the blurry eyed beginning.
The IMAX Hubble 3-D movie opens worldwide at IMAX theatres on March 19.